What is Trauma Informed Movement and How Can It Help? From a Somatic Therapist in Castle Rock, CO
You may have heard the term “Trauma Informed Movement,” especially if you’re interested in the health and wellness, yoga, or mental health spaces! But what does trauma informed movement actually mean, and how can it help you?
What is Trauma Informed Movement?
Trauma informed movement refers to any approach that addresses how trauma impacts the brain, nervous system, movement, and whole body. Trauma informed movement recognizes that if you’ve experienced certain types of trauma, then you might also have a different physical or emotional reaction to certain types of movement than another person who hasn’t experienced that trauma.
For example, if you’ve been in a car accident that resulted in a back injury, you might not be able to bend in specific ways. A trauma informed yoga instructor might recognize that and support you with alternatives without singling you out. But what if you’ve experienced trauma such as sexual assault? You might be able to physically move your body in a variety of ways, but perhaps specific movement makes you feel incredibly uncomfortable. Trauma informed movement also recognizes the impact of emotional trauma, and an informed yoga instructor would also offer alternatives for these situations as well. Again, without making it something that makes you feel singled out or awkward.
You can practice trauma informed movement by yourself, in a group, or with a practitioner. Group settings could be anything from a fitness class with trauma informed aspects, to a group dedicated to trauma informed movement, to a support group with a practitioner leading. And of course, trauma informed movement can happen in therapy too!
The biggest thing to understand is that the goal of trauma informed movement isn’t to heal trauma. It’s just one piece in the much bigger puzzle of trauma informed care!
If you’re not familiar with the concept of trauma informed care, this basically means any approach in a professional setting that emphasizes safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment. Trauma informed care should always be a part of counseling. You can expect your therapist to value your safety, emphasize and empower your choices about your life, collaborate with you rather than prescribe what you should do, and behave in a way that is genuinely trustworthy. If that’s not what you’re getting, I would recommend finding a different therapist!
But trauma informed care goes far beyond therapy. More and more industries are recognizing the benefits of trauma informed care, from yoga and fitness studios, to primary care doctors’ offices, to police departments, to perhaps even your own employer. And that is why trauma informed movement is catching on as well!
What does Trauma Informed Movement help?
Our brains, bodies, emotions, and sensations are all intricately connected. More and more neuroscience research shows that many people experience effects of mental and emotional trauma in physical ways, such as chronic pain, panic attacks, and even developing illnesses. If our brains and bodies feel disconnected from each other by their pain or experiences, it can just cause more suffering for the person. Vice versa, when we are able to help the brain and body reconcile with each other, it can be a powerful form of relief.
Trauma informed movement can actually help integrate those parts of the brain and body that feel disconnected or out of sync. It’s an important part of any mental health therapy that focuses on trauma.
What are some examples of Trauma Informed Movement?
There are many trauma informed exercises you can do at home!
Grounding is a form of trauma informed movement. If you’re feeling highly anxious, distressed, or like your brain is off somewhere else, grounding can help you come back into your body in the present moment. One simple way to practice grounding is by intentionally noticing your surroundings with your 5 senses. One of my favorites? Stepping outside in the grass barefoot! You could also focus on specific textures, like a favorite blanket or petting your dog, notice pleasant scents like candles or essential oils, or eat something you enjoy and really focus on the flavor. For more of our favorite grounding exercises, check out this recent blog post!
Another trauma informed movement exercise is called Co-regulation. It’s easier than it sounds! Our brains and bodies automatically respond to other beings in countless, subtle ways, long before we consciously react to each other. As a result, we often find ourselves mimicking and reacting to others’ body language. If a baby smiles at you, can you even stop yourself from smiling back? Probably not! That’s co-regulation at work. You probably co-regulate with others every day: with your partner, your kids, your pets, your coworkers, your friends, maybe even with people passing by on the street.
While much of co-regulation happens automatically, we can also tune into this process and intentionally regulate ourselves with the help of another person. Another example- did you watch Season 2 of Bridgerton? If so, you probably remember the scene in which Anthony has a panic attack because Kate was stung by a bee. If not, you can watch the scene here!
We learn that Anthony has this intense reaction because his father died because of a bee sting years ago, and he feared the same would happen to Kate (although she’s fine). Back in the early 1800s, they didn’t have the science to know that some people are deathly allergic to bee stings, and others make it through without an issue. How does Kate react to Anthony’s panic attack? She puts his hand on her upper chest, by her heart, with her hand on top, and her hand on his chest with his on top. She breathes with him and speaks to him gently, and he eventually recovers. It’s a really beautiful example of one person intentionally supporting another with the power of co-regulation. Anthony’s body is able to calm down because of all the subtle signals he receives from Kate’s body.
We can do this to help each other, too. When a mom calms and soothes her child: co-regulation. When you hug your partner and give them some warmth after a bad day: co-regulation. Mirroring calm, gentle movements with another person can help as well. And if you’re the one struggling with anxiety or distress, ask someone who cares about you for help. Deep breathing with another person, similar to Kate and Anthony, can be very powerful. If you’re alone, try deep breathing and even smiling in the mirror to mimic this process.
Bilateral Stimulation (BLS)
BLS is a core process in EMDR therapy, but it’s something you can do at anytime to help your brain and body “talk” to each other and process more effectively. BLS simply means that you stimulate each hemisphere of your brain back and forth. And since each hemisphere is connected to one side of your body, this means you can move each side of your body back and forth to engage in BLS. Walking is BLS! Yes, it’s that easy.
Have you ever felt like you could think more clearly while on a walk or a run? It’s because of BLS! You literally can think more clearly while engaging in this process. If you’re not able to go on a walk in the moment, you can do what’s called the Butterfly Hug. Cross your arms across your chest so that your palms rest on your shoulders. Focus on taking slow, deep breaths. And as you breathe, tap on your shoulders back and forth at a gentle pace. This is a really calming form of BLS, which can be a great way to incorporate trauma informed movement into your day.
Ways to Incorporate Trauma Informed Movement Into Your Normal Activities
Trauma informed movement can easily become part of your daily life through activities you already enjoy.
If you enjoy practicing yoga, try to put more emphasis on mindfulness and poses that support your body, rather than pushing to the highest fitness level possible. This can apply to just about any workout or class!
If you enjoy taking walks, amp up the mindfulness factor by taking a hike or a walk out in nature. Give yourself time and space to truly enjoy the outdoors around you. Soak up the smells, sights, textures, and the fresh air around you.
Almost anything in water can become trauma informed movement. Because water naturally releases pressure on our joints, swimming can be a wonderful opportunity to stretch your body and notice your movements in a different way. Floating can be very meditative. And if you’re fortunate enough to be near the ocean soon, simply wading or swimming in the pulsing waves can also have a very meditative, even hypnotic, effect.
How Will You Practice Trauma Informed Movement?
I hope this has helped you learn more about trauma informed movement and ways to incorporate it into your healing process, self care, and daily routines. And if you’d love to know more about trauma informed movement or trauma informed care, our team of therapists at Authentic Connections Counseling Center in Castle Rock, Colorado is here to support you. You can book a session by calling 720-370-3010 x100 or emailing us at [email protected].